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Faculty Member Explores New Way of Thinking about Religion in New Book PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Contact Tearanny Street 601.266.6823   

A University of Southern Mississippi professor challenges standard views of how to think about God and religious belief in a new book titled, “Meaning and Mystery: What It Means to Believe in God.”

Dr. David Holley, professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion, argues that the question of belief should be raised within the context of considering a “life-orienting story,” an all-encompassing narrative that provides a way for people to interpret the meaning of their experience and judge how to live.

“Embracing either a narrative of belief or a narrative of disbelief involves a level of personal engagement that is missing from standard ways of discussing the existence of God,” Holley said. “We do not decide about God and then decide whether to accept a particular narrative; we come to accept or to reject the idea of God through finding a theistic or atheistic narrative viable as a guide to life.”

Holley’s writing on this topic was initiated by an encounter with a high school student who was trying to decide whether to continue believing in God. 

“This student was raised by Christian parents who taught him about their faith, but he came to a point where he thought he needed to decide things for himself,” Holley said. “His reflections took on the form of considering various facts about the universe in an attempt to discover whether God was needed as an explanation of things.”

According to Holley, the student assumed he should think about the question of God with the detachment we adopt when dealing with theoretical issues, hardly noticing that he was deciding about a matter of life-changing significance. Observing this process helped to motivate Holley’s account of an alternative to a disengaged approach to considering the existence of God.

In addition to philosophical literature, Holley uses insights from sociology and cognitive psychology to illuminate the nature of religious beliefs. Using illustrative material from sources such as “Les Misérables,” the television series “Joan of Aracadia” and the film “Stranger than Fiction,” Holley’s book is written in a style that is accessible to the general reader.

The intended audience includes both professional philosophers and people who have little background in philosophy, but want to think seriously about whether to believe in God. “The book is for people who, whether they believe in God or don’t believe, recognize the need to think deeply about the issue,” Holley said.  

“Meaning and Mystery: What It Means to Believe in God,” is available in bookstores and online at Holley will be signing copies of his book from 5-7 p.m. on Feb. 18 at Main Street Books in downtown Hattiesburg.

For more information on new books by faculty in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Southern Miss, visit

About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities.  In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world.  Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at

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